How does Christianity explain human death?

The traditional interpretation of Genesis chapter three is
that the sin of Adam and Eve led to their eventual physical death, and,
presumably to eventual physical death for all human beings. ‘You must not
eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden and you must
not touch it, or you will die.’ (Genesis 3:2) When Adam and Eve ate the
fruit, they did not immediately drop dead, but Genesis three is generally
interpreted to imply that eating the fruit did ultimately cause Adam and
Eve to become mortal, and therefore to ultimately die. This belief
appears to be supported by Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin entered
the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death
came to all men, because all sinned–for before law was given, sin was in
the world….

Having given the traditional interpretation of both Genesis 3
and Romans 5, it is possible to interpret both passages as only implying
result of Adam’s sin to be spiritual death–separation from God for
eternity–as being in mind in these passages. In other words, it is
possible to assume that Adam and Eve were all along fated to suffer
physical death, and that their sin sin had the consequence of spiritual
death. One could argue either way on these passages.

Either way, the Bible gives the impression that physical death
is inevitable. “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to
face judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27). But then again, we did not need the Bible
to tell us that physical death is the apparent eventual fate of all of us.

To (finally) answer your question, the Bible presents the
overall picture that God intends for our life in these physical bodies to
be only a temporary situation. God all along intended that we should be
able to live with him forever in “spiritual” bodies. To quote 1
Corinthians 15:51f, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep,
but we will all be changed–in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the
last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised
imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must cloth
itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, When the
perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with
immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has
been swallowed up in victory.””

From God’s perspective, physical death for human beings is not
an end. It is a transition. Those who put their faith in Jesus Christ
will experience victory over death, and can laugh at death, although this
is certainly a difficult thing for us, emotionally, to do. To God,
physical death is not the issue. Eternal life (or death) is the issue.
Physical death points out to us the temporary nature of everything we
strive for in this life. It forces us either toward despair, or toward
reliance on God–to either declare “eat, drink and make merry, for
tomorrow we die,” or “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans
5:2). We are either “without hope and without God” (Eph 2;12), or we
wear “the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thess 5:8).

Is physical death a cause of much anguish for human beings?
Yes. Are even disciples of Jesus tempted with this despair at times?
Yes. Is physical death a sign of hopelessness and that God either does
not exist or that he messed up somehow? No. It is the transition to an
eternal reality, for better or for worse, for each of us.

John Oakes

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